Ninebarrow celebrate a decade together with a supremely crafted and nocturnal-themed set.
Release Date: 1st September 2023
Label: Winding Track
Format: CD & artbook
Another exquisite set from Ninebarrow – it feels like we’re almost compelled to use the same words as when we reviewed A Pocketful Of Acorns back in 2021. The old maxim of ‘if it ain’t broken why fix it’ comes into play with another beautifully presented CD digipack and booklet to add to the swelling ‘N’ section on the shelves.
Clearly subscribing to the same cliche bank as ourselves, the Jon Whitley and Jay LaBouchardiere are joined once again – ‘if it ain’t broken…?’ – by cellist Lee Mackenzie, John Parker on double bass, with Evan Carson (whose recent hairstyle modifications certainly don’t subscribe to the ‘if it ain’t broken…’) on percussion.
As the album title suggests, the duo works a balancing act between light and shade. The carefully crafted fragility that is their trademark is offset by more lush and textured arrangements; five songs and one tune being Ninebarrow originals, amongst a selection of covers and an adaptation and arrangement of a Victorian Dorset dialect poem by William Barnes. The ‘tradition’ isn’t snubbed though, as the folk box is firmly ticked; the pair, inspired by Dick Gaughan’s take on The Snows They Melt The Soonest, gird their loins and take up the challenge to produce a stately and reverent effort that ranks up with the finest versions of the song.
Finally overcoming the feeling of trepidation at attempting such an iconic piece by such an iconic singer, they do it again on Nick Drake’s River Man which has the honour of closing the album. Dripping with the sort of passion that’s earned many admirers, the gentle cadence of Jon and Jay’s homage is a genuinely felt tribute.
But back to where we came in and a rich string texture that introduces House, the warmth of the sentiment about “the place you call home” bears a link with the confinement period of 2020 – their very own (actually written by Patrick Wolf) lockdown anthem. Walk With Me shares a similar intimacy, with the richness of the cello complementing the rolling piano lines in the same way as the sentiment considers friendship and the joy in sharing.
Kitty’s Song – a small snippet of a larger work inspired by the folklore of the South West – references Kitty Jay (a familiar figure in folk circles via Seth Lakeman’s trademark piece) giving a lovely piano breather. Not only that, the thought of them developing a fully formed larger-scale project is a mouthwatering prospect.
Ever a sucker for a drone, Among The Boughs sees Jon and Jay on familiar territory in calling up William Barnes and adapting one of his poems with a melody that bounces lightly, celebrating nature. Paired with Cast To The Waves, the signature Ninebarrow care and craft is in full flow. Birds, trees, water, horses and the history of quarrying all provide subject matter; the latter (whilst we’re on the subject) a brooding Lakeman-esque arrangement that tells of something approaching civil disobedience in reclaiming rights. Ten Miles By Two bemoaning how “The poor man’s rights stay paper thin, that’s the way it’s always been…” with a starker and rhythmic-based arrangement.
Much more gentle is the title track that conjures up visions of the famous Ninebarrow woodland (at night, naturally). Again, the effect of the simple drone and setting the song to an Icelandic folk song adds to the haunting and eerie, yet comforting ambience. A sense of reassurance, not unlike Galadriel’s gift of Eärendil’s star to provide light in the darkness.
The Colour Of Night is very much a much-welcomed return for Ninebarrow. They seem to effortlessly continue to clear the high bar they’ve set; a decade of their evocative musical charm is encapsulated in The Colours Of Night.
Be satisfied by a snippet: